Alexander Pope, whose three hundred and twenty eighth birthday it is today, was a brave little man. I mean little quite literally. He contracted tuberculosis in childhood, and the damage it caused to his bones meant he had a severe hunchback and grew to be less than 140 cm tall.
As if this wasn't enough of a disadvantage, he was a Catholic at a time when Catholics were seen as a grave political threat. They were banned from universities or holding public office, and when Alexander Pope was about twelve years old they were banned from living in London, so he and his parents had to move to the countryside.
Illness, political disadvantages, and a lack of schooling might have suggested a life in quiet retirement, but instead Pope got himself an education by reading all the books he could find, made friends wherever he went - and set out to make as many of the powerful people in England look ridiculous as he possibly could.
This wasn't the safest way to live, and for a time he wouldn't take a walk without his Great Dane at his side and a couple of pistols in his pockets.
So, did he leave us a record of the great bitterness this sadly afflicted and persecuted genius must have felt?
No, not at all. His writings are an absolute blast.
The Rape of the Lock is a Great Epic Poem about a True Incident when a Man Cut off a Lock of his Girlfriend's Hair without Permission. Part of the fun comes from the fact that the Great Tragedy was nothing very important at all, and part from describing the lifestyle of the In-Crowd at the time.
('The Cave of Spleen' from The Rape of the Lock, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley)
Here's a passage about the young lady's preparations for the day ahead.
Unnumber'd treasures ope at once, and here
The various off'rings of the world appear;
From each she nicely culls with curious toil,
And decks the goddess with the glitt'ring spoil.
This casket India's glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breaths from yonder box.
The tortoise here and the elephant unite,
Transform'd to combs, the speckled and the white.
Here files of pins extend their shining rows,
Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux.
Now awful beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms,
A delicious feast of right-minded waspishness, I'd say, and hurrah for the magnificent Alexander Pope.
Word To Use Today: the word pope comes from the Old English papa, from the church Latin for bishop, from the Late Greek papas, father-in-God from the Greek pappas, father.
PS: The Rape of the Lock was a huge hit, and three of Neptune's moons are named after its characters.